Our selection of books this month takes us on a deep dive into the mycelial networks of Merlin Sheldrake, the insect world of Dave Goulson, and the spine-tingling swamps of Alan Moore. We surface on the supermarkets aisles to discover more about our food with Louise Gray, and explore unchecked corporate greed with Naomi Alderman. It’s fair to say, our November selection has something for everyone.
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Neither animal, plant or mineral, fungi are the mysterious underpinning of our world — almost literally so, because 90% of plants depend on fungi and their mycelial networks in order to grow. Sheldrake’s gorgeously-written account teems with mind-altering and perspective-shifting facts. Who knew that the world’s largest living organism is a gigantic fungus that lives underground in Oregon, or that fungi can eat up oil spills and enrich soil for farmers? But while Sheldrake celebrates the regenerative and restorative properties of fungi, perhaps their most fascinating application is their ability to alter our cognition — and even ourselves.
“These organisms make questions of our categories, and thinking about them makes the world look different,” he writes. The decentralised organisational system of fungi’s mycelial networks is one of humming, constant aliveness, he argues, begging the question: is it really possible to be an individual in ecology? Sheldrake believes that fungi offer us a radical re-understanding of the world — including new imaginings of embodied interconnectedness. His enthralling and beautifully woven book provides a fresh and inspiring perspective on fungi that will captivate lay readers, and reinvigorate any ecological activist. – Cailey Rizzo
The Two-Headed Whale by Sandy Winterbottom
In 2016, Sandy Winterbottom embarked on an epic tall-ship voyage from the busy port of Montevideo to the emptiness of the Antarctic Peninsula. Through vivid and vital descriptions we follow her journey across the vast southern oceans, sensing the ‘feeling of lightness as the ship falls away into the trough of a wave’ and the ‘toothpaste-fresh’ hue of the sea. But sailing alongside her is the shadow of Anthony Ford, a 15 year old from Edinburgh, whose grave Winterbottom encounters on the tiny island of South Georgia, leading to an obsession that diverts her adventure into the brutal world of industrial-scale whaling. The two stories culminate in the unlikely true-life tale of a vegan who ends up befriending the men who partook in the slaughter of two million whales.
In a world that seems increasingly divided, The Two-Headed Whale reminds us of our common humanity and resurrects a history of environmental exploitation that holds crucial parallels with the modern day climate emergency.
Avocado Anxiety by Louise Gray
In Avocado Anxiety, Louise Gray takes us on a deeply personal journey from the accusative supermarket aisles – ‘proper mothers cook for their children’ – back to her family roots in a vibrant Edinburgh greengrocers. At a time when we have become so thoroughly divorced from the food that sustains us and its impact on the planet, Gray digs the dirt on organic potatoes, greenhouse tomatoes and the surprising delights of UK-grown fava beans. Each chapter answers a question about a familiar item in our shopping basket. Is plant protein as good as meat? Is foraged food more nutritious? Could bees be the answer to using fewer chemicals?
‘When I write about fruit and vegetables,’ Gray tells us, ‘I am really writing about an effort to be a better person, to leave a lighter footprint on the world.’ This colour-filled and engaging book is a must for everyone who loves food, and loves the planet. – Sandy Winterbottom
Silent Earth by Dave Goulson
Dave Goulson is passionate about insects. One of his earliest memories is finding a stripey yellow and black caterpillar feeding on weeds at the edge of the school playground. His passion turned into a career, and in Silent Earth, Goulson draws on a lifetime of study and the latest ground-breaking research. He reveals the shocking decline of insect populations with eye-watering statistics – ‘41% of insect species threatened with extinction’ – and details the potentially catastrophic consequences of their demise.
This thoughtful and enjoyable book is part love letter to the insect world, part elegy, part rousing manifesto for a greener planet, and while we may feel helpless in the face of ecological breakdown, Goulson shows us how we can all take simple steps to encourage insects and counter their destruction.
Nomad Century by Gaia Vince
With every degree of temperature rise, a billion people will be displaced from the habitable zones in which they have lived for many thousands of years. With drought, heat, wildfires and flooding reshaping Earth’s human geography, Gaia Vince explores how we can best manage mass-scale climate migration and restore the planet to a fully habitable state. Emphasising that migration is not the problem, but the solution, Vince illustrates how migration brings benefits not only to migrants but also to host countries, many of which face demographic crises and labour shortages.
The Future by Naomi Alderman
The future that Alderman conjures in her ambitious, exuberant follow-up to The Power is all too close to our own. Unchecked corporate greed dominates the political and cultural landscape; the Sixth Mass Extinction is in full swing; and AI, social media and new gadgets are transforming the way we live, communicate and think.
Against this backdrop, a collection of billionaires, paranoiacs, and idealists including a former cult member and a survivalist influencer co-operate and compete to shape the future of their dreams. With the continuation of much of life on Earth at stake, Alderman’s timely, intelligent thriller is tempered with anthropological, philosophical and religious commentaries which deftly frame the action in the context of entrenched cultural history, the biodiversity crisis, and Deep Time. – Liz Jensen
Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore
For years, when people asked me why I bothered reading comics, I would point them in the direction of Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing. Not only is it a beautifully illustrated and powerfully written work of counterculture storytelling, it’s also a testament to the true potential of the graphic novel medium. For many people – myself included – this comic came with a moment of awakening, in the style of: ‘Whoa, I had no idea comics could do that’.
A brief synopsis. Our hero is Swamp Thing, an elemental representative of ‘the green’ – the hive mind of all plant life on Earth. In Moore’s editions, Swamp Thing takes the human form of Alec Holland, a plant scientist who suffers a terrible tragedy and goes on a series of spine-tingling, occasionally psychedelic and deeply moving adventures, mostly set in a swamp. The stories are characterised for being highly philosophical and politically challenging, very much in line with the rest of Moore’s oeuvre, such as ‘Watchman’ and ‘V for Vendetta’.
I recommend The Saga of Swamp Thing to anyone yearning for a modern-age Green Man to come and protect our wild world using only the power of vines and roots, weeds and blooms. – Philip Webb Gregg
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
In a dystopian future world, the indigenous people of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow, which contains something precious that the rest of the world has lost, but desperate to recover: the ability to dream. Dimaline’s classic best-seller which follows the challenges faced by the fifteen-year-old orphan Frenchie, explores language, intergenerational trauma and the deadly cycles of history.
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, this story is a rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption. This bold and colourful picture book is best suited for readers aged three to seven.
Poem of the Month
Last month we featured Rebel Talk: poetry from the climate emergency, an anthology by Extinction Rebellion curated and edited by Rip Bulkeley, with a forward by Philip Gross. This month our poetry editor has selected the panegyric poem Songs of Praise by Shanta Acharya from the collection, a reminder of what we are fighting for and suggestion of what to hold in our hearts as we do.
Songs of Praise
from prayers in different traditions
Praise the stars in their constellations
for knowing their place, yet blessing all migrations.
Praise the sun, powerful yet unwavering
in its journey across the sky, light pulsing
though clouds, mists, life sustaining
Praise the moon always true, waxing waning,
constant in its daily transformation.
Praise the earth as it moves on its axis —
inner and outer cores holding each other,
partners on the dance floor, steady as they go.
Praise day and night, mere limits of our perception,
and death, a release from our earth-bound vision.
Praise the sky, air, ether: praise the universe
for awakening us to worlds beyond our imagination.
Praise water in all its forms, giving and taking —
blood flowing through continents of bodies.
Praise plants sun-facing, light-changing
breathing in carbon, green deities in meditation
giving us oxygen, expecting nothing in return.
Praise the eyes of the guest — clear, observant.
Praise the giver of life — almighty, benevolent.
Praise every species in our planet
masterpieces of evolution —
rich rare, wild, keepers of infinite secrets.
Contact our Librarian if you would like themed book lists to support teaching about climate change.
We’re always looking for contributors to our growing collection of literature to explain and explore the climate and biodiversity emergency. If you’re a writer or poet and would like to share your work or ideas, please get in touch! Contact email@example.com for prose or firstname.lastname@example.org for poetry.